The Association of Teachers and Lecturers has warned media promotion of an unattainable body image is destroying young people’s self esteem.
In a survey of 639 union members, 78% said they thought girls suffered low self-esteem, while over half said they thought boys had poor body confidence. Over half (54%) of teachers said girls felt pressured to diet in order to achieve the ‘perfect’ figure, while 30% said boys were prone to exercise excessively to build the kind of body they saw in the media.
A massive 94% said they believed poor body image was caused by media pressures – i.e. messages portrayed through advertising, television, magazines, music videos and social media. The bulk of respondents said children were also highly influenced by their own peers.
One secondary school teacher from Wandsworth, London observed that shorter boys were particularly sensitive to pressures and became noticeably withdrawn or disruptive as a result. Another teacher said children as young as five would say things like: ‘I can’t eat cheese, it will make me fat!’
A head of department at a secondary school in Exeter said: “Digital and social media are a nightmare with ‘anonymous’ sites that slate students in the most appalling terms on their appearance, personality and anything judge-able.”
The association’s general secretary Mary Bousted says children are under enough academic and social pressures without having to worry about the shape of their bodies too.
In response to the worrying statistics the Central YMCA Qualifications board will be launching a qualification in body image to teach children about body image in the media, as well as self-esteem, exercise and nutrition. This class will be introduced in secondary schools in the UK from next year as part of PSHE (personal, social and health education) classes.
To find out how counselling can help with issues surrounding body image, please visit our Low Self Esteem page.
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